Piñon, Nélida 1937–
Piñon, Nélida 1937–
ADDRESSES: Home—Av. Epitácio Pessoa, 4956 80 andar Lagoa, 22471-001 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Agent—Agencia Carmen Balcells, Diagonal 580, 08021 Barcelona, Spain.
CAREER: Pontifical Catholic University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, member of philosophy faculty. Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, creator of chair in literary creation, 1970; University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, Dr. Henry King Stanford Professor of Humanities, 1990–2003; lecturer at other institutions, including Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, and Georgetown University, as well as venues around the world; workshop presenter; public speaker.
MEMBER: Brazilian Academy of Letters (chair, 1996–97), Brazilian Academy of Philosophy, PEN Club of Brazil, Brazilian Institute of Hispanic Culture, Academy Conselho Estadual de Cultura, Academy of Sciences of Lisbon (corresponding member), Phi Beta Delta (Beta Theta chapter).
AWARDS, HONORS: Walmap Prize of Brazil, 1970, for Fundadot; Mario de Andrade Prize, Association of Art Critics of Sao Paulo, 1972, for A casa da paixão, and 1984, for A república dos sonhos named among ten women of the year, Sector Literature, 1979; award from PEN Club of Brazil, 1985; Manuel Bandeira Medal, University of Campina Grande, 1986; award from Brazilian Writers' Union, 1987, for A doce cançáo de Caetana; Gold Golfinho Award, Government of the state of Rio de Janeiro and State Council of Culture, 1990; Bienale Nestle, 1991; Castelao Medal, Galician Parliament, 1992; Juan Rulfo Award of Mexico, 1995; Rosalía de Castro Award of Galicia, 2000; Isabel la Católica Award, 2000; Jorge Isaacs Ibero-American Narrative Award of Colombia, 2001; Award Menéndez Peleyo International Prize of Spain, 2003; Order of Feminine Merit, Government of Rio de Janeiro, 2004; Príncipe Asturias de Letras Award of Oviedo, Spain, 2005; medal of Order of Rio Branco; Galicia Medal; Don Alfonso Enrique Medal of Portugal; Gabriella Mistal Medal of Chile; honorary doctorates from University of Poitier, University of Montreal, and Universidad Santiago de Compostela.
Guia mapa de Gabriel Arcanjo (novel; title means "Guide Map of Gabriel Archangel"), G.R.D. (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1961.
Madeira Feita Cruz (novel), G.R.D. (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1963.
Tempo das frutas (short stories; title means "A Season of Fruit"), J. Alvaro (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1966.
Fundador (novel; title means "The Founder"), J. Alvaro (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1969.
A casa da paixão (novel; title means "The House of Passions"), Mario de Andrade (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1972.
Sala de armas (short stories; title means "The Weapons Room"), Sabia (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1973.
Tebas do meu coração (novel; title means "Thebes of My Heart"), Olympio (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1974.
A força do destino (novel; title means "The Force of Destiny"), Record (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1977.
O calor das coisas (short stories; title means "The Warmth of Things"), Nova Fronteira (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1980.
A república dos sonhos (novel), Alves (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1984, translation published as The Republic of Dreams, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
A doce cançáo de Caetana (novel), Guanabara (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1987, translation by Helen Lane published as Caetana's Sweet Song, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
(Coeditor) Fernando Casás: ocos: marzo, 1992, Casa da Parra, Santiago de Compostela, Xunta de Gaalicia (Santiago, Chile), 1992.
O pão de cada dia (fragments; title means "Our Daily Bread"), Editoria Nova Fronteira (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1994.
Roda do vento (juvenile fiction; title means "The Windmill"), 1996.
Até amanhã, outra vez: crônicas (chronicles; title means "Until Tomorrow, Once Again"), Editoria Record (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1999.
O presumivél coraçáo da America (speeches; title means "The Presumed Heart of America"), Academia Brasileira de Letras (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 2002.
Vozes do deserto (novel; title means "Voices of the Desert"), Editora Record (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals.
Piñon's fiction has been translated into Spanish and French.
SIDELIGHTS: The novels and short stories of Brazilian Nélida Piñon are marked by a strong sense of feminism and eroticism, as well as the author's love of the performing arts, particularly opera. One of Brazil's most important contemporary writers of fiction, Piñon's reputation has spread beyond the borders of her native land in recent years, and many American literary critics have begun taking notice of her work. Since the publication of her first novel Guia mapa de Gabriel Arcanjo in 1961, Piñon's work has been recognized for its experimental use of both language and plot. She has been known to end some sentences in the middle of an idea or thought, while others run on for great lengths, incorporating many ideas.
Though she has a college education, having earned a degree in journalism, Piñon inherited much of her storytelling ability while learning of her Galician heritage. While her mother was born in Brazil, Piñon's father and both sets of grandparents were from Galicia, Spain, and moved to Brazil. Not only did Piñon learn the stories of the ancient homeland of her ancestors, she spent two of her formative years living there, a period the author has said was profoundly influential. While in Galicia, Piñon stayed at an old farm that had been owned by her family for generations, and that was near a small village where the young girl witnessed firsthand the storytelling ability of the old-timers. "It was marvelous because I integrated myself into rural life, the life of the European interior—therefore into the old way of life," Piñon told Bill Hinchberger in an interview for Americas. "I used to always go talk with those old men, the popular narrators, the storytellers. They taught me that there is a story to be told, that the history of man is waiting there to be narrated. No story had a final ending: It was always to be continued—because the history of man is to be continued."
This Galician influence can best be identified in her novel República dos sonhos, her trademark work. Covering the successes and failures of four generations of a Brazilian family that had originated in Galicia, the novel, according to Piñon, represents "the dream of Brazil seen by immigrants from outside, [and] inside … a corrupted and degraded dream marked by disillusionment." The saga follows the family as it weaves its way through the course of actual historical events that have taken place in Brazil over the course of the last century. In fact, this incorporation of Brazilian history is another aspect often found in Piñon's work. In her fiction she has taken on some of Brazil's larger social problems, including the treatment of women by a patriarchal hierarchy. Though she does not claim to be a feminist, Piñon has created a host of female protagonists and characters who, in one way or another, rebel against sexist traditions. An example of such a character is Marta from the novel A casa da paixão. Marta is a young girl in the midst of puberty who, in the course of the story, discovers and then begins to embrace a sexual awakening. The story, like many of Piñon's other works, is filled with scenes of sexual intercourse and displays of erotic passion, a fact that has drawn its share of controversy throughout her career. Yet critics have overwhelmingly praised her work, both for its ingenuity and its social consciousness.
Piñon is also a teacher of literature, both in Brazil and abroad, including stints at various universities throughout the United States, where recognition for her work has steadily grown over the last decade. She is a noted lecturer, and is often asked to discuss various topics, including her own literary works as well as Latin American literature in general. In Brazil, she continues to be a prominent figure in the literary community, contributing editorials to leading newspapers, and participating in writer's workshops. In recent years, she has begun to write children's stories, including Roda do vento.
Piñon is the product of a strict Catholic upbringing. She attended a high school that was administered by German nuns and went on to study journalism at a university run by a group of Jesuit priests. At an early age Piñon developed a strong, lifelong appreciation for ballet and opera that she has continually expressed in her fiction, such as in A força do destino, a retelling of a Verdi opera, in which Piñon inserts herself as an instrumental character. Piñon was also able to immerse herself in the history of the two cultures that became so instrumental in her prose. "I am the child of two cultures," Piñon told Hinchberger. "I was a Brazilian and I spoke the Portuguese language, but at home or in my grandparents' house, where affection flowed like a river, there were only foreign presences—particularly Spanish and especially Galician. It is an intense, archaic, old world. I circulated between the Spanish-Galician language and the Portuguese language." She published Guia mapa de Gabriel Arcanjo in 1961, which was followed by the novel Madeira feita cruz. Both works display Piñon's firm grasp of language, though in these early works it was at times so loaded with multiple meanings that some readers were too confused to appreciate the young writer's promise.
In 1966, after a period of literary maturation, Piñon published a volume of short stories titled Tempo das frutas, which was her first critical and popular success. The work introduced Piñon's tendency to feature themes such as eroticism and irony. In 1969, with Piñon's reputation on the rise, Afranio Coutinho, who was then the chair of the Department of Letters at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, enlisted her to conduct a workshop for literary development, the first of its kind at the university. Her success in this capacity was well noted, and for the rest of her career, she would be asked to serve in a similar capacity throughout the world.
Piñon's next novel, Fundador, features the author's growing awareness of the political and social issues that plagued Brazil in the 1960s. Modeled after a medieval epic romance, Fundador is the adventurous story of a small band of radical villagers as they fight destructive and oppressive social forces deep within a symbolic forest world. Similarities can be drawn between the small group's predicament and that of various Central American countries that have struggled with dictatorial and oppressive regimes over the last half-century.
After publishing the erotic A casa da paixão in 1972, Piñon completed several other works, including A força do destino, before beginning work on A república dos sonhos, generally considered her masterpiece, and her first work to be translated into English as The Republic of Dreams. A tribute to her Galician heritage, the novel follows the life of Madruga, who leaves Galicia at the turn of the century in hopes of attaining wealth in Brazil. The story continues into the 1980s, by which time Madruga has attained a fortune and become the patriarch of an extended family. An old man, Madruga is the only link between his Brazilian family and his native land. Having learned many Galician legends that were told to him by his grandfather Xan when he was a boy, Madruga imparts these ancient tales to his granddaughter Breta, the story's other main character. Over the course of the narrative, the story jumps back and forth through time and over continents, as Breta learns the Galician lessons. Yet just as important to the narrative is contemporary Brazilian history, which has shaped and molded the family. Colonialism is an apparent target of Piñon's derision, as she strips naked Brazil's social and political systems. In the process, she has been noted for enlightening many readers and critics.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 145: Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers, Second Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Americas (English edition), February, 1997, interview by Bill Hinchberger, p. 40.
New York Times, July 30, 1989, section 7, p. 22.
World Literature Today, January-April, 2005, Vera Regina Teixeira, "Nélida, the Dreamweaver," pp. 22-26.
Fundación Príncipe de Asturias Web site, http://www.fundaciondeasturias.org/ (May 22, 2006), author profile of Nélida Piñon.